The drycleaning industry is under siege with the spread of casual clothing from just Friday to now every day of the week. I’ve been on a rant for years about the huge reduction of professional dress in the work place and the acceptance of ‘just good enough’ potato chip grease stained t-shirts and pressed by floor or still wrinkled from the dryer blue jeans that now passes as acceptable office wear. The sloppy look is responsible for the massive reduction of drycleaning needing clothing which has resulted in the dramatic downturn of piece counts in your plants.
Worse is the response by the drycleaning industry itself. There has been a dramatic wasp waisting of the entire industry with plant owners responding to the change in fashion and reduction in drycleaning pieces by moving to a discount or one price business model, or move upscale with a couture high price per piece business model. The middle of the road moderate priced cleaner has disappeared or become scarce.
Change happens, whether you want it to, or not. Some have change thrust upon them and simply don’t know how to respond to the changes our industry is facing and gone out of business, or dropped dead at their press trying to keep on keeping on doing the only thing they know…..or even worse.
So many cleaners find it easy to forgo price increases in an attempt to keep competitive (and viable) in the hopes that they will be able to outlast their competitors and end up being the last cleaner standing in their market. As time goes by, the profit margins get squeezed tighter, and tighter, and it gets harder and harder to make the monthly minimum; keep staff, rent and suppliers paid. Eventually, it simply becomes impossible to keep all those balls you are juggling in the air, and BOOOOOM, it all comes crashing down, and another drycleaner goes broke leaving a dark store and customers clothing locked inside.
HOPE is not a very good business strategy. HOPE does not pay the bills. HOPE only goes so far. What one really needs is CHANGE.
Choosing CHANGE can be exhilarating, liberating, fun, exciting, but it’s not easy. The biggest obstacle one must overcome is usually oneself. It takes a lot of courage to move yourself outside your comfort zone.
Let me give you a little advice on how you can start the process of embracing or starting the process of change in your business. Set aside one hour out of your work week where you will remove yourself from your business (yes, get out of your store) and go someplace where you can be alone and undisturbed by your customers and employees. Bring along a note pad and a pen. When you get to your place you have chosen to get out of your shop, I want you to write down your most pressing problems you have in your business on your note pad, one problem per page. If it takes the whole hour to write them down, that’s just fine. If you do it in five minutes, that’s just fine too. If your hour is up, go back to work and save your note pad for next week’s one hour session with yourself. If you have time left in your hour, I want you to start writing down ideas you have to solve the problem you wrote down until your hour is up, then go back to your plant.
After a couple of weeks of taking yourself out of your plant, and going someplace to problem solve on paper, it’s now time to act. Take the solutions you’ve come up with back to your plant, and share them with your staff, whether the solution is a policy, a practice, buying some software or product, whatever your solution is, put it in place. Then, wait and watch what happens. Does the problem go away, stay the same, or get worse? If there is no change, or the result is not what you wanted, revisit the issue during your next one hour session. Repeat until you have a solution.
If you can’t handle being out if your shop working ON your business for just one hour a week, I have to tell you, that you have some serious problems! I know some folks who spend almost all of their time out of their shops doing nothing but innovating processes and new ways of business. These folks have built businesses that are disrupting their dry cleaning markets. The business models and processes they have created are extremely radical, so radical many conventional cleaners say it’s impossible to do what they do. Wouldn’t you like to own a business that is doing the impossible?
The entire drycleaning industry needs this kind of disruption. The largest taxi service in the world doesn’t own a single car (Uber), the largest hotel service doesn’t own a single square foot of property (AirBNB). I started out doing what many said was impossible: running a mini-plant without a central vacuum and boiler (self-contained tensioning presses) and a 20-lb. all electric dry-to-dry drycleaning machine in a 660 square foot space. The cleaner across the street had 2,500 square foot conventional plant. When my competitor went broke, a 60 year old company with 65 employees and a central plant of 8,000 square feet replaced him, until they too went broke.
Not that it was all wine and roses for me. The business model I used to disrupt my market worked well for me and others, for a time. Change caught up to me, and change was forced upon me. Like many of you, I resisted change until it became too difficult to resist it any longer. I paid a terrible price for resisting, and almost lost it all. When I embraced change, and began to force change on myself and my business, life turned around.
What is going to be your contribution to disrupting this industry? How are you going to innovate your way to better markets, better sales, a better business and a better life? Simply going to work and doing the same thing every day is simply going through the motions and leads to vulnerable to boredom, or worse, vulnerable to a competitor who just might out-innovate you.
My last article (Your Drycleaning Business Sucks) struck a nerve with phone calls, emails, and sharing of the article on social media, and I’m humbled by your reactions, comments, calls, messages and emails. I was very touched by some of the folks who reached, and I’d like to remind each and every one of you reading what I write: you are never alone. Please, feel free to reach out to me, and I’ll do my best to connect you to people and resources that can help you.